“Won’t Back Down” movie review: A road map for parent activism

“Wait” means, “It’ll never happen.”

So says Principal Thompson (played by Ving Rhames), the leader of the fictional Rosa Parks Charter School, a high-performing charter with a long waiting list, in the new movie Won’t Back Down. Jamie Fitzpatrick (Maggie Gyllenhaal) enters her daughter in the lottery but does not win a place at the charter school. (A familiar scene if you’ve watched the documentary Waiting for “Superman”.) And so Jamie continues on her quest to find her daughter a place at a good school.

The movie opens September 28, but I was lucky enough to see an advance screening last night, thanks to the ticket giveaway at ¿Qué Means What?. (Thank you, Melanie!)

Have you ever been within sight of your goal, only to find a bomb-cratered, barbed-wire-strewn, no-man’s-land of bureaucracy standing in your way? Then you will understand this movie at a visceral level. Jamie is relentless in pursuit of her goal of finding a good situation for her daughter. She has to prop up and persuade Nona Alberts (Viola Davis), a teacher with fears for her own son.

Is the movie anti-teacher? No, I don’t think so. Nona is shown rediscovering her teaching mojo. Jamie’s love interest, a line-dancing, ukelele-playing, Teach for America hottie (Oscar Isaac), is also shown as an inspiring teacher.

Is it anti-union? Yes. Unions are shown defending “rubber room” behavior and launching a PR battle using misinformation and personal attacks. (I have experience with the misinformation, although thankfully not the personal attacks.) However, the movie takes pains to pay homage to past achievements of organized labor.

Besides telling a story, the movie is clearly intended as a template for parent involvement. Will we see real-life parents modeling the behavior from the movie? That’s got to be a good thing. Resources for parents:

Are you sold yet? Go see it! Here’s the trailer:


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